“I love to volunteer in the community,” Larry said. “I see it as a civic duty.”
Larry graduated from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he completed an interdisciplinary engineering program. He studied Energy Systems—the scientific, political and environmental questions about producing energy. Larry was working as a building contractor in Addison County, Vermont, in 2009 when he experienced a life-changing health crisis. Larry contracted the Swine Flu which triggered a stroke, weakening the left side of his body and compromising his problem-solving abilities while prompting early retirement.
Larry is a committed VAL volunteer who tutors students in STEM areas, particularly math and physics. He sees the activity as mutually beneficial: he helps students en route to earning their high school diplomas and he gets to brush up on his favorite subjects, exercising his engineer’s brain. He likes the rhythm of teaching and taking a break. He wants his students to have the luxury of time to think about the problems they are solving, not simply plugging in formulas.
“We work for an hour, walk to get a cup of coffee and work for another hour,” Larry said. He particularly likes the Lost Monarch Cafe on Mill Street, a short walk from VAL’s Learning Center at the Marble Works building on Middlebury’s Otter Creek.
“I could work on my physical disabilities one hundred percent of the time,” Larry said. “I started volunteering to fill my time. I learned that I integrate better with older kids and adults. I really enjoy it.”
Larry is a natural teacher and has an easy-going manner that puts his students at ease. He also has a wonderful sense of humor. He tells his students that they don’t have to do math fast in order to do math well.
“I put students in the position of being the teacher, where they explain their work to me,” Larry said. You haven’t learned it until you can explain it. I might say, ‘I don’t quite understand how you got that answer. Can you walk me through and show me how?’ Asking that question SLOWS THEM DOWN so they can think and solve the problems more accurately. Evan (one of Larry’s current students) is very good at this. He understands the meaning behind the math. Evan wants to enter the Air Force to become a firefighter who is stationed at military bases or public airports. He’s got it figured out—he wants a well-paying job that allows him to live anywhere.”
“Meeting with Larry is definitely a highlight of the week! It is awesome having him as my math teacher, not only for him being super smart and creative. But also how he looks at things, always asking questions that really get my brain going,” Evan said. “The other part is him being a friend. We walk and get coffee every week and talk about life and stuff that is going on. Larry is a great person and teacher and I look forward to meeting with him every week!”
Larry sees VAL’s value in helping students learn. In his view, career exploration and learning how to present oneself professionally add value to the experience. If you love what you’re doing, you don’t feel like you have to “go” to work.
Larry is generous with his time and willingness to spring for a cup of coffee or a dozen donuts. He recognizes the sweet treats are welcomed by students who might be coming in to study just before or after a work shift. Asked if there’s something more VAL could do to enhance the volunteering experience, his answer was simple: DONUTS.
“I tease Natalie (VAL Regional Director in Middlebury) to ask if we have a budget for coffee and donuts!”